Pinpointing the brain’s arbitrator: Reliability weighed before brain centers given control

amanimal called my attention to this fascinating article, which has a bearing on yesterday’s and many other posts I’ve made about brain processing.

We tend to be creatures of habit. In fact, the human brain has a learning system that is devoted to guiding us through routine, or habitual, behaviors. At the same time, the brain has a separate goal-directed system for the actions we undertake only after careful consideration of the consequences. We switch between the two systems as needed. But how does the brain know which system to give control to at any given moment? Enter The Arbitrator.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have, for the first time, pinpointed areas of the brain — the inferior lateral prefrontal cortex and frontopolar cortex — that seem to serve as this “arbitrator” between the two decision-making systems, weighing the reliability of the predictions each makes and then allocating control accordingly.

more at Pinpointing the brain’s arbitrator: Reliability weighed before brain centers given control — ScienceDaily.

Now, is the arbitrator part of consciousness, or the unconscious, or some aspect of both?

8 thoughts on “Pinpointing the brain’s arbitrator: Reliability weighed before brain centers given control

  1. Going with the odds …

    “It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that nonconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought – and that may be a serious underestimate. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought. If the cognitive unconscious were not there doing this shaping, there could be no conscious thought.”

    ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’, Lakoff & Johnson 1999



      1. I’d also go with unconscious based on some of the language used and quoted in the article such as:

        “… how does the brain know which system to give control to …”
        “… if we can find a way of altering activity in this area …” – John O’Doherty
        “… how the arbitrator sets the weight …”
        “… arbitrator may work mainly by modulating …”
        “… the arbitrator determines … it accomplishes this by inhibiting …” – John O’Doherty

        … all sounds like it’s working outside of conscious awareness, but they certainly could have just come out and said so.


        1. Based on my understanding of consciousness, it seems like all thoughts happen in the unconscious, with some getting recognized and incorporated into consciousness after the fact. Sort of the multiple drafts model Dennett talked about. Subsequently, consciousness then makes that info available to the rest of the unconscious mind.


          1. 🙂 From what I’ve read of the unconscious, that’s my understanding as well. I think something similar to the kind of weighting they talked about with arbitrator goes on and determines what “pops” into consciousness, to use Gazzaniga’s onomatopoeia, depending on the circumstances of the moment.

            If you haven’t come across dual process theory in your reading have a look at:


            … there’s a great chart about 1/2 way in that I find myself referring to now and then in pondering this, that, and other stuff.


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